Can China’s wheelchair fencers end their great year on a high?
The Chinese team heads to the IWAS Wheelchair Fencing Grand Prix in Hong Kong (18-22 December) looking to continue its dominance, but the home nation won't be making it easy.
Having taken ten gold medals at the World Championships in Budapest in August, the Chinese wheelchair fencers are favourites end 2013 as the dominant force in the sport
To do so, they’ll first have to get past a talented Hong Kong side looking to impress in front of their home crowd.
A big boost to China’s chances is the absence of the host nation’s star performer – seven-time Paralympic Gold medallist Yu Chui Yee.
Having already won several major titles this year Yee has enough ranking points to end the year focusing on rest and recovery, rather than competition.
But, according to Yee, the home team shouldn’t be written off too soon. She believes that her teammates can still gain the upper hand.
"I think local support always plays an important part," Yee explains. "With all the familiar faces, languages, and facilities, we will more easily go into competition mode and have better results.
Despite home advantage, Yee admits she is wary of the threat posed by the strong Chinese team. She expects they will be out in force as they look to repeat their dominance once more.
"I think the Chinese fencers are very strong and they are always our major opponents. I think China is going to send a big team," said Yee.
"The China team always has new and talented fencers appearing on the international stage. I am looking forward to seeing new Chinese faces."
One of the athletes Yee lists among the Hong Kong team’s biggest threats is China’s Yao Fang, women’s category B foil winner at London 2012 and this year’s World Championships.
Asked about whether competing nearer to home will make the Chinese team even stronger, Fang stressed that she will not be underestimating her rivals:
"Hong Kong has been our role model," she said. "It is also one of the biggest competitors, so there is no advantage for us."
Yu Chui Yee sees the Grand Prix as the perfect opportunity for a young Hong Kong line-up to test itself against strong, experienced competitors like Fang. They’ll also face another of China’s top competitors, Yijun Chen, current holder of the Paralympic and World Championship titles in the men’s category A sabre event.
"We have a young squad," she explains, "They are lacking competition experience."
"The Hong Kong Grand Prix will be a perfect chance for them to gain that experience. I would like to see a few of them qualify to compete at Rio 2016 with me."
Yee is also looking forward to the rivalry between Hong Kong and China playing out closer to home again next year, when she will once again be on the piste.
"In 2014 we will have the Asian Para Games, which is my current goal. I would like to see the Asian countries more willing to organize wheelchair competitions in the future."
For now, attention turns to the Ma On Shan Sports Centre in Hong Kong for a competition that looks set to bring what has been an exciting year of fencing to a close in style.